This is a wonderful attempt by Kissinger to understand the world throughout history, and I think nobody else has managed to analyze and present the subject in such a simple yet comprehensive manner.
In the beginning of the book, I was instantly won over by his insightful summary of Europe’s history, pointing out the things that separate Europe from the rest of the world. I, as a European, was thinking about these same things and asking myself questions, and suddenly when I read this book I finally received convincing answers!
I was equally intrigued by his analyses on other parts of the world too; we need more people who take the time to go beyond the superficial and who understand that not everyone thinks in the same way we do, even on fundamental rights and wrongs that we take for granted.
The things he does not say in the book are quite interesting too. Understandably, a significant portion of the book is devoted to the USA and its role in the world. Kissinger says almost exclusively positive things about the United States as a nation, and about every US president mentioned; however, a strong implicit dissent transpires between the lines.
I feel that, as a skilled diplomat, Kissinger delivers strong criticism without actually uttering a single critical word. It is evident that he is not a keen believer in universal principles and values; also, he does not believe that a uni-polar world power, without a weighty counterbalance, can ever be stable and good for the people. In these two aspects, he goes contrary to most post-WWII US foreign policy, even though he himself has had a personal role in shaping that same policy.
Kissinger frequently points out that America (and Americans) can be very idealistic and very pragmatic at the same time. I suspect this is also true of Kissinger himself as a person, even though he is mostly known for his pragmatic, almost Machiavellian side. The USA often fail to find a balance between those two contradictory traits; they either go to war quickly and imprudently, or withdraw from war too abruptly, leaving unfinished business and chaos behind. This has happened many times, and is still happening. In societies familiar with the nation-state concept of social order, such as former Yugoslavia, peace and prosperity can be restored relatively quickly after such interventions. In other places, such as Afghanistan, this can be a causa perduta.
It is surprising that American statesmen keep making these same mistakes, and that the American public keeps tolerating it. Actually I believe Kissinger could have been a great US president if he weren’t, as a naturalized citizen, constitutionally barred from running.